NATO Airstrike Hits Afghan House, Killing 9

Monday, March 5th 2007, 6:16 am
By: News On 6

JABAR, Afghanistan (AP) _ A NATO airstrike destroyed a mud brick home, killing four generations of an Afghan family _ nine people in all _ during a firefight between Western troops and militants, Afghan officials and relatives said Monday.

Militants late Sunday fired on a NATO base in Kapisa province, just north of Kabul. When fighter aircraft returned fire they hit a civilian home, killing five adults and four children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, said Gulam Nabi, 51, a relative of the victims.

Maj. William Mitchell, a U.S. military spokesman, said officials were looking into the incident. The NATO base in Kapisa is staffed by U.S. forces and sits some 50 miles northeast of Kabul, the capital.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene said a large mud home in a compound of five buildings was destroyed, leaving only exploded bits of mud.

Among those killed were Gulam Nabi's parents, his sister, his nephew, and four of the extended family's youngest children.

The news of the airstrike came one day after wounded Afghans and witnesses said U.S. Marines fired on civilian cars and pedestrians after a frenzied escape from a suicide bomb and gunfire attack in eastern Afghanistan. The violence sparked angry anti-U.S. demonstrations by hundreds of Afghan men.

Up to 10 Afghans were killed and 34 injured during Sunday's violence in Nangarhar province. A delegation of Afghan officials on Monday visited the site of the bombing as part of investigation into the attack and its aftermath.

The back-to-back incidents of NATO or U.S. forces killing or wounding so many Afghans was likely to cause further grief and anger in a country that has seen scores of civilians killed by international forces since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pleaded repeatedly for Western troops to take care not to harm civilians. On Monday, he condemned the killings in Nangarhar province and said he had ordered an investigation, and government assistance for the victims and their families.

A U.S. official called The Associated Press on Monday to say that military authorities believe Sunday's suicide bombing was a ``clearly planned, orchestrated attack'' that included enemy fire on the convoy and a pre-planned and arranged demonstration.

The official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, said authorities believed criminal elements orchestrated the attack and demonstration and that it was related to ongoing Afghan efforts to eradicate the region's profitable poppy crop.

He said there was ``no doubt in the minds of Marines on the ground that they were being fired on.'' The official said Afghan casualties could have been caused by militants on the ground or by U.S. gunfire.

However, two senior provincial Afghan officials who also asked not to be named said they had found no evidence to corroborate the military's claims that militants fired on the Americans. An AP reporter who has spoken to more than a dozen witnesses could not find anyone who said they saw or heard incoming militant gunfire.

Akhtyar Gul, who ran outside his home after the suicide bombing, said he saw American troops firing in many directions _ and that some bullets struck the wall of his home. He said he saw a woman working in a nearby field struck by American gunfire.

``There was nobody on the street, nobody on the road to fire on the Americans,'' said Gul. ``The only firing that came toward us was from these American vehicles.''

The U.S. official also questioned how a large demonstration could materialize so fast, suggesting it had been planned. But witnesses on the ground say the demonstration happened more than 3 miles west of the bombing and only after the U.S. convoy had driven by shooting at civilian cars and pedestrians.

``We didn't know about the suicide attack, because the attack was miles away from us,'' said Haji Gul Batikoti, 25.

He said no one encouraged the Afghans to demonstrate.

``Ten minutes after the vehicles left, all the angry people who were collecting the injured people and also carrying the dead bodies, they were shouting, they were very angry,'' he said.